NASA's Europa Clipper is one of the organization's most ambitious and important missions for the next decade. This spacecraft will make many short passes over the ribbed surface of Europe, looking for data on the geological activity of the region, measuring the thickness of the icy moon shell, the underground lakes, and drawing conclusions about its ocean. Of Europe.
It was originally intended to be launched with NASA's SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. However, this plan was scrapped. Now, NASA will use SpaceX Falcon Heavy, following a proposal made earlier this year.
The Europa Clipper mission looks set to launch in October 2024 with a Falcon Heavy rocket.
Initially, the Europa Clipper was ready to use SLS to reach Jupiter. This same rocket will be the basis of the Artemis moon program, but it seems to be repeatedly delayed. Reusable SLS is also extremely expensive, adding more than $ 2 billion to its cost. shipping. Nevertheless, Congress would not let NASA consider alternatives.
In early 2021, Congress allowed NASA to explore launch options for the Clipper, and here we are with SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy has enough power to get the Europa Clipper where it needs to go and will cost much less. This rocket is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets screwed together. It was not even clear that Boeing (the main contractor of SLS) could have the rocket ready in time, as it also served the Artemis mission.
It's not just the rocket that will cost less now - a version of the Clipper released on the SLS would require significant costly modifications. The SLS is launched from the pad with the help of two large solid amplifiers, which means that the payloads will experience what is known as a high "torsional load" from the vibration. To make the Europa Clipper durable enough to survive this, it would need a redesign worth about $ XNUMX billion. This, along with the higher cost of the rocket itself, ultimately convinced it Congress to retreat. Well, this is a big win for SpaceX.
Source of information: extremetech.com